Posted on: June 14th, 2018 by


In Judaism, there’s a beautiful gravesite tradition where the rabbi cuts a part of the mourners’ shirts, about where the heart is located. Those closest to the deceased wear the ripped shirt every day during the first week of mourning to symbolize and remind us and the community how our hearts are torn apart.

The shirt I wore the week my father died was eventually thrown away, but my heart is still torn apart.

This Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.

As I write this, I am torn apart by fresh primal grief, as he died only a couple of months ago.

As I write this, I feel a plethora of emotions — from feeling lost and angry to grief-strickenly sad.

But this Father’s Day will be the first one I celebrate without a living father.

This post celebrates my father and contains 20 facts that will help you know the kind of man my dad was.

1. As mentioned in a previous post, my dad survived the Nazi peril. He made the most of his life in America, despite frequent anti-Semitic jabs from co-workers (yes, it was accepted back in the day). On workdays, he often woke up at 2:30 a.m. and came home around 6 p.m. A punctual man who had a weakness for donuts and such, he would get to his favorite donut place each day, have a danish or donut, and still have time to be early for work.

2. He understandably loved bakeries.

3. He had an aversion to tardiness.

4. His work ethic was that of superstar. He had a manual-labor job in the food industry, where he worked until he retired. He was never late to work, labored in all kinds of brutal conditions — in a warehouse with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer — and hardly ever called in sick.

5. The plus side of having a dad who works in the food industry is that he loved being creative with food. I always had watermelon baskets for my birthday parties, as well as fun, delicious finger sandwiches.

6. Speaking of fingers, my dad almost lost his in heavy machinery several times. OSHA-who?

7. He had a penchant for work. Even after my parents retired and moved to Florida, he worked as a pool security guard. He no longer had to work for financial reasons; he just wanted to work.

8. He was an uncomplicated man — he loved his family, friends, and work. That’s it.

9. He was an extrovert. He loved people and was never shy. Everyone who met him loved him. I’m more of a shy introvert, so our personalities clashed sometimes.

10. He and my mom were champion ballroom dancers. I’m not exaggerating; they won some very impressive awards way before Dancing with the Stars was ever conceived. In fact, my parents were the stars of many a dance hall — from his younger years to his retirement years.

11. My dad’s love of dancing got passed down to me. He used to ballroom dance with me and teach me all the moves (I never retained all of the ballroom dances and, if asked, couldn’t recall them now). He and my mom supported my years of tap dancing lessons.

12. After my recitals, my parents wanted me to feel special, so we usually all went to a diner for a treat to celebrate my dancing prowess.

13. Despite our limited financial means, my dad always managed to treat his and other kids to treats such as ice cream and admission to movies and museums. He was an exceptionally generous man.

14. My dad would frequently talk Yiddish with our relatives. When the individuals in our family wanted to keep my brother and me out of a conversation, they turned to Yiddish. Luckily, I learned Yiddish through my paternal grandmother during my formative years. My dad would embarrassingly say to them, “Zi farshteyt” (“She understands.”) And I did. I’m no longer fluent in Yiddish, but I loved hearing my relatives speak it, and I relish my Yiddish-speaking days. I will always love the language of my father and our family. In fact, my friends can tell you that I often pepper my English with Yiddish words and phrases.

15. My dad and brother loved playing catch together. They also wrestled on my parents’ bed, which would sometimes collapse as a result, and to my mom’s dismay.

16. My dad was a big kid with an infectious sense of fun. He was often goofy and immature. Also to my mom’s dismay.

17. He didn’t care for all the music I was a fan of, but he tried to be. We spent hours together, when I would play my favorite songs for him on the stereo. He fed into and expanded my love of music by purchasing 45s (remember those?) from a record machine in the grocery store and surprising me every week with a new record.

18. He always cared about making life convenient for me, even if his life was made less convenient by it. When I volunteered at an animal hospital during my teens, my dad would often try to save me the long ride home via two buses. He’d pick me up. And there happened to be a Carvel ice cream shop right next to the animal hospital, so….

19. My dad had real values that he passed onto his children. I hate it when politicians preach “family values.” But my dad’s basic values were real: they included treating others with respect, working hard, not giving up easily, not taking ourselves seriously but taking what we do seriously, and trying our best with whatever endeavor we undertake. His mantra to my brother and me were to always try our best and not to let go of our dreams. I’ve passed these values down to my daughter, as well.

20. When I was an insecure teenager, my dad gave me the most powerful gift I’ve ever received, an anonymous poem called “Don’t Quit.” I taped it to all my books and read and re-read the poem all the time. It helped me succeed academically and deal with my insecurities. To this day, it remains my favorite poem and was poignantly read by the rabbi at my dad’s gravesite. The text of this poem is provided here.

Yes, my dad will always be alive within my heart and my family’s hearts. But that won’t make this Father’s Day any easier; in fact, this holiday will be so difficult to bear. But I will honor and celebrate Father’s Day by never letting go of my dreams and never quitting.

How will you spend Father’s Day?

Are you missing your father or guardian?

Please feel free to share something about your father/guardian; I’d really like to hear about him.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

My parents' wedding day

My parents’ wedding day

Retirement days

Retirement days

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12 Responses to Dad

  1. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Oh Beth, your grief is still so raw. I’m a year further into grieving for my dad and it’s still so painful. The firsts are rough, but I’m finding the seconds are as well. Love and grief are so intertwined.

    Thank you for sharing these 20 facts about your dad. May the many wonderful memories you have of him forever remain treasures for your heart. I’ll be thinking about you on Sunday and beyond, my friend. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      You said it so well, “Love and grief are so intertwined.” Yes, they are, and grief is such a complicated entity. All we ever can do is enjoy the memories and live life as well as we can.

      Hugs to you.

  2. Eileen had this to say about that:

    Beth, I loved reading about your dad and all of his admirable and fun qualities.

    I’ve been without my father since 1991 when he died from cancer. It’s been over 27 years, but I tear up just writing this. He was a wonderful father and human being, my hero.

    I think the best gift we can give our own children is the kind of love where their hearts also break when our time comes. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Eileen, your comment is so poignant, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I like the way you refer to your dad as your hero.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the last point you made. I think when my time comes, my daughter will be grieving a lot. It breaks my heart to know that one day her heart will be broken. Yet, I guess that’s the nature of being mortal and a part of life.

  3. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) had this to say about that:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I am always so taken with Jewish traditions around Shiva – it’s something I wish I could have observed when my Mom died. And what a beautiful couple your Mom and Dad were on their wedding day and through all their years of devotion to each other. Sending you love today xxx

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you, Marie, for your beautiful comment. My parents certainly were devoted to each other and the family they created.

      Thank you for sending love. I feel it.

  4. Catherine Foy had this to say about that:

    Dear Beth, thank you for sharing the wonderful attributes of your father. I am so sorry for your loss. My father is still alive, thankfully, but my mother died over seven months ago and I fully understand your grief. I remember reading a quote and it has stayed with me all these months is that “grief is the price we pay for love” With best wishes, Catherine

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Catherine,

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother recently. I’m sure the pain is still so raw for you.

      The quote you provided rings so true. Thank you for your comment. Hugs, Beth

  5. Kathi had this to say about that:

    What a lovely, loving, splendid tribute to your dad. I loved reading about him and getting to know him a little, as well as the depth of your love for him. I wish I could give you a squishy hug. Knowing what he endured because of the Holocaust makes it all the more moving to read about his character. What an example he set! xoxo, Kathi

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you so much, Kathi. And I would accept a squishy hug!

      My dad did set a great example for us, as we grew up. He really liked people, and I know he would’ve liked you!

  6. Yessica Rodriguez had this to say about that:

    I am sorry for your loss, this year was my first Father’s day without my dad and it wasn’t easy. I loved him so much and we did everything together. Daddy’s girl doesn’t even begin to describe our relationship. We had such a bond that was irreplaceable. It’s now been 7 months and 1 day since he left me and not one day goes by that I’m not thinking of him or replaying certain events we had in my head. I thank you for writing these blogs, iy gives me a little sense that I’m not the only one who is missing their dad.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Yessica,

      Thank you. I am so sorry for your loss, as well. Your dad was very special to you; I can see that clearly. It is so very difficult to lose a parent one loves so much.

      You are certainly not alone in your grief. I understand. It’s so difficult. But hang in there one day at a time, one moment at a time. It takes time, but the grief seems to stay. I’ve heard from readers that grief means you loved the person who died. I agree that grief and love are intertwined.

      Thank you for your comment.

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